Curve, Leicester2nd July, 2018
“Give oxygen to the myth”
From the now annual BBC festive Christie adaptations to Lucy Bailey’s triumphant production of Witness for the Prosecution, the recent popularity of classic ‘whodunnits’ has proven that the armchair thriller is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance. Following his dramaturgy for Bailey’s Christie stage adaptations, Simon Reade has taken on that other stalwart of British crime literature, Arthur Conan Doyle, with his unofficial sequel, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain.
For those accustomed to Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ high-octane, hallucinogenic sleuthing team for the fanzine generation, The Final Curtain is a much more sedate affair. Now OAPs, suffering from angina and rheumatism, Sherlock Smith (nee Holmes) (Robert Powell) and Dr John Watson (Timothy Kightley) have not been in contact for 30 years – Holmes enjoying the pleasures of bee keeping at his secluded coastal home, while Watson has taken up Psychoanalysis, renting rooms in their old haunt, 221B Baker Street. But when Watson’s wife, Mary (Liza Goddard), visits Sherlock with news of spectral sightings of her years-dead son, the duo are reunited in order to solve the most personal of mysteries.
Framed by Watson’s narration of the adventure to the new wireless generation, the story is nestled in an era of upheaval – gone are the Victorian hansom cabs and gas lamps, and instead Holmes and Watson rely on ‘modern’ technology to snare their suspects. An exploration of old age, an analysis of fin de siècle solemnity versus the nouveaux urgency of the post-war years – there is opportunity here to present poignant and pertinent questions, filtered through the incongruous aging and (dare I say it) displacement of a beloved literary hero. Yet Reade wastes this opportunity.
Instead we get a sluggish ‘Holmes-by-numbers’ style plot, into which Reade crowbars as many references (clichés, if you will) from Conan Doyle’s original series. ‘Three pipe problems’, the Stradivarius (or lack thereof), and Holmes’ queasy cocaine addiction are all hammered home, showing a faithlessness in the characters’ strengths. Reade diminishes him to a series of quirks, as if, by presenting Sherlock as an older person we need convincing of his identity. The first act is leaden with exposition that ultimately seems irrelevant, while the second act decisively stretches the limits of plausibility. Furthermore, the blurb promised us ‘twists’ and, yes, twists we get, but rather than construct an original, watertight mystery, Reade’s plot twists rely on upending everything that Conan Doyle created. I personally didn’t have a problem with the plot of The Cursed Child, but, without giving too much away, The Final Curtain seems to be encroaching on familiar territory. Contradictory as it may sound, after the final reveal I was left feeling both underwhelmed and admitting that, finally (no matter what one thinks of the later series of BBC’s Sherlock), Holmes has well and truly jumped the proverbial shark.
That isn’t to say there aren’t nice moments of dialogue. The interactions between Holmes and Watson have a breadth of topic and vocabulary which kept me invested. Yet it perhaps say a lot that the most memorable line was a philosophical soundbite lifted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth…
Jonathan Fensom’s design is solid enough, the 221B interior being the centrepiece, but director, David Grinley’s production suffers from a lack of action in Reade’s script. Listless conjuring tricks and clunky scene transitions leave the production feeling longer than its 1 hour 55 minutes running time. The cast try their best to lift the characters, and Powell in particular is certainly watchable, but there remains a sense that they deserve something meatier to sink their teeth into.
If I have been overly harsh, I apologise, and I’m sure many audience members found aspects to enjoy in The Final Curtain, however, if ‘cosy crime’ is your thing, I think you’d be better off sticking to ITV3 repeats.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain plays at Curve, Leicester until 7th July and continues on a UK tour.